China is the factory of the world and a major hub for trade and commerce. It is of paramount importance that persons interested in doing business in China learn about areas such as business culture and etiquette in order to maximize their business trip potential. Learning to understand what is hidden below the surface can mean the difference between success and failure in China.
In this two-part article, a few cultural facts on business culture and etiquette are explored. These are in no way meant to represent a comprehensive summary of information on doing business in China but highlights some important key areas that one may encounter. Part two of this article will be featured in next edition our China Direct News Blog.
• The Chinese would prefer to do business with people whom they already have established relationships with. It would be best to utilize an intermediary that is known to both sides when initiating contact with a Chinese company.
• Chinese prefer to be formally introduced to someone new. This applies to both Chinese and foreigners.
• Chinese appear to be aloof when being introduced. This should not be taken as an insult or that they are not interested in the proceedings.
• It is very important to stand when being introduced and remain standing throughout introductions.
• The handshake is the acceptable form of greeting among Chinese. They may also nod or slightly bow. Your business card should be presented at this moment.
Business Card Etiquette
• Have one side of your business card translated into Chinese.
• Your business card should include your title. If your company is the oldest or largest in your country, that fact should be on your card as well.
• Hold the card in both hands when offering it, Chinese side facing the recipient. Cards should also be received with both hands. Do not immediately put the card in a pocket or bag – this is considered rude.
• Examine a business card before putting it on the table next to you or in a business card case.
• Follow with the standard, “I am pleased to meet you” or “Ni Hao” in Chinese.
• When seated, place cards on the table. This shows respect and is also an excellent way to remember names.
• Remember that China is the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan is the Republic of China.
Forms of Address & Titles
• The Chinese will state their last name first, followed by the given name. For example, Liu
Liang, in Chinese would be Mr. Liang Liu in Western culture.
• Chinese persons should never be referred to by his or her last name. Unless specifically asked, do not call someone by his or her first name.
• Addressing someone by their professional title and last name conveys respect. In Chinese, usually the title follows the family name. When speaking to (or about) a Chinese person in English, then the title is said before the family name. For example, Liu Xiansheng (Mr. Liu) and Liu Jingli (Manager Liu).
• Women’s names cannot be distinguished from men’s names. Chinese women use their maiden names even after marriage, but may indicate marital status by using Mrs., Ms., Miss, or Madam. Mrs. Wang might be married to Mr. Liu.
• Chinese who frequently travel abroad on business may adopt a Western first name, such as David Liu. They may request that they be referred to as David, once a relationship has been established.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Gifts are an important way of creating and building relationships in China. In general, gifts are given at Chinese New Year, weddings, births and more recently (because of marketing), birthdays.
• Chinese etiquette dictates that gifts may be declined three-times before they are accepted.
• Always open gifts with two hands.
• The Chinese generally do not open gifts at the time they are received.
• When receiving gifts from the Chinese, do not open them unless they insist.
• Four is an unlucky number so do not give four of anything. Eight is the luckiest number, so giving eight of something brings luck to the recipient.
• Do not give scissors, knives or other cutting utensils as they indicate the severing of the relationship.
• Do not give clocks, handkerchiefs or straw sandals as they are associated with funerals and death.
• Do not give flowers, as many Chinese associate these with funerals.
• Do not wrap gifts in white, blue or black paper.
• Under no circumstances should you give a gift that would make it impossible for the Chinese to reciprocate – this would cause a loss of face and place them in a very difficult position.
Recommended Gifts & Taboos
Business gift-giving protocol changes from area to area.
• Gifts should reflect the personal interest of the recipient and some thought should be given to it.
• Group gifts with your company logo prominently displayed are proper as long as they do not include things that are considered taboo and ostentatious.
• Do not give anything in sets of four or gifts that carry the association of death or funerals such as clocks, cut flowers or white objects. Do not give scissors or anything sharp as it symbolizes severing relations.
• Display caution when giving food items as it can suggest poverty.
• Wrapping gifts in white represents death but colour wrappings are viewed favourably.
• Writing in red ink is never done as it can symbolize death or the end of a relationship.
It is often said that in China “everything is possible, but nothing is easy”. Taking time to learn about Chinese business culture and customs can only pay dividends.
Should you require any assistance or more information on travelling to China for a trade tour, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (868) 271 3438.